Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Perdita Weeks
RunTime: 1 hr 33 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Horror And Coarse Language)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/AsAboveSoBelowMovie
Opening Day: 4 September 2014
Synopsis: Miles of twisting catacombs lie beneath the streets of Paris, the eternal home to countless souls. When a team of explorers ventures into the uncharted maze of bones, they uncover the secret of what this city of the dead was meant to contain. A journey into madness and terror, As Above, So Below reaches deep into the human psyche to reveal the personal demons that come back to haunt us all.
‘As Above/ So Below’ holds the eponymous honour of being the first film given permission to shoot in the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, which famously house the remains of six million dead. You’re not likely though to sense that distinction given to the film; instead of taking advantage of that opportunity, director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle’s horror saga unfolds not much differently than your standard issue found-footage thriller, which also means that you better be prepared for a nauseating time.
To be fair, Dowdle is no stranger to the format; together with his brother Drew (who serves as producer here), they have used the shaky-cam to good effect in the US remake of the Spanish hit [REC] as well as their earlier movie ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’. But whereas such a method may have worked for these other titles, it does nothing here other than induce motion sickness, but even more significantly, makes it even more difficult to see what exactly is going on, especially since most of the proceedings take place in claustrophobic small spaces.
The protagonist here is the female explorer Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), an intrepid historian/ urban archaeologist who speaks four living languages and two dead ones. Convinced that the all-powerful Philosopher’s Stone lies within the labyrinth of tunnels, Scarlett leads an expedition which includes her pal George (“Mad Men’s” Ben Feldman), her requisite cameraman Benji (Andrew Hodge) and three other local French urban spelunkers ((Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar).
Needless to say, their treasure hunt starts to get spooky as they go deeper and deeper into the catacombs. But besides some feral-looking character dubbed ‘The Mole’, the rest of the occurrences are pretty much the usual horror-movie suspects, including dead bodies, creepy ghoulish types in hooded robes wandering around, a rotary phone that rings for little rhyme or reason and many other little things that apparently belong to the household. And then there are the writings on the wall (we mean this literally) as well as the eerie chanting, which signify some supernatural occurrences, the change in tone marked by a significant change in the amount of crypto-superstitious baloney that you’ll either buy into or scoff at.
Notwithstanding the hokum, how much you’ll be scared depends on how well you take to jump-scares, of which there is a more than generous number of throughout the movie. Yes, while the setting does generate a fair amount of tension in itself, Dowdle panders to genre convention to try to give their audience a kick out of jumping in their seats. We don’t blame Dowdle; aside from some chilling moments in the final reel, there is a lot of running, crawling and screaming that doesn’t amount to much, especially since we are tended to look away every time that happens in order to avoid the inevitable headache thereafter otherwise.
Even at a relatively brief 93 minutes, Dowdle finds himself straining to keep his audience engaged. The characters are minimally involving, despite his efforts at forcing each one of them to confront his or her inner demons while being faced with the paranormal. Instead, try as he does, Dowdle fails to make any of his characters or for that matter his movie anywhere as compelling as the group of women trapped in the cave in the far superior ‘The Descent’, to which this thriller owes a weighty debt.
Of course, ‘As Above/ So Below’ has its own hook in offering its viewers a rare chance to see parts of the catacombs which are not open to the public, and yet it squanders that opportunity by choosing to tell its story in a format that is already way past its shelf life. Don’t get us wrong – we’re not against the faux-documentary format; there are many good examples of horror thrillers that have successfully made use of the format to build atmosphere. In this case however, it almost always works against the movie itself; after all, it is precisely when things start to get exciting that everything starts to go blurry.
(A found-footage horror thriller that squanders a perfectly good premise with shaky camerawork and unengaging characters)
Review by Gabriel Chong